Orwell’s Legacy

Last month, Glenn Frankel of the Post’s Foreign Service bureau ran an article commemorating what would have been George Orwell’s 100th birthday. The gist of the article (which, alas, is no longer available for perusal on the Post’s site) was that as remarkable and influential as Orwell was, he still had his share of blind spots. As a particular point of note, the article admonishes us that, after all, 1984 was nothing like 1984.

Yesterday, I watched Michael Radford’s film version of 1984, which generated a reasonable buzz around its release based on the fact that it was filmed in London during the exact time frame envisioned by Orwell in the original novel. In looking back, that makes for an interesting footnote, but hardly does justice to the quality of the film itself. The performances — including the last by Richard Burton — are gripping, the screenplay is thorough without becoming incomprehensible, and the production design is nothing short of astonishing. Radford’s world uses strictly 1940’s-era technology, with no attempt at speculative futurism.

I’m actually surprised that I’ve waited this long to watch the film again, but it seems more relevant now than ever. Thoughtcrime has become “terrorist sympathy.” Big Brother has become Total Information Awareness. The state of constant war, with the inexplicable shifting of enemies from Eurasia to East Asia, remains exactly as is, with only the names changed to Afghanistan and Iraq. The Ministry of Love is alive and well at Guantanamo Bay.

Perhaps 1984 wasn’t quite like 1984. Orwell was merely off by a couple of decades.


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